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Encouraging Your Son to Dance

By Mira Sucharov, September 29, 2010

When I was a kid, my friends and I worshipped a range of onscreen idols. When I make a mental list of some of them -- John Travolta in Grease, Kevin Bacon in Footloose, Michael Jackson in his game-changing Thriller video, and Mikhail Baryshnikov in White Nights, I see that they had two things in common. These men were cool. And they could move. 

For decades, being able to tear up the dance floor has held high social currency. Think Fred Astaire. Patrick Swayze. Breakdancers. Even the Cuban boy baby, for heaven’s sakes, now going viral over youtube gyrating to fast samba on his kitchen table wearing nothing but a diaper.

In my run-of-the-mill large high school in 1980s Vancouver with its locker cliques and jocks and preps and nerds, getting a lead in the high school musical was considered pretty nifty, for both girls and guys. Singing was key, but having some dance skill meant that you’d actually look good on stage too. The Winnipeg I left as a twelve year old has even continued to attract teenage girls -- and boys -- to its Jewish dancing and singing troupe known as the Chai Folk Ensemble.

I want my kids to be well rounded. I want them to have secure and meaningful friendships. And I would be lying (though I would deny it if they asked) that I would be pleased if they were even considered “popular.”

So why do I feel socially subversive by enrolling my four-year-old son classes?

At his preschool, he tried out a weekly afternoon dance program, which he loved, until he noticed that most of the boys were down the hall taking gym. (The two activities are regrettably scheduled concurrently.) At our neighbourhood community centre he took a ballet class with his big sister, which he seemed to enjoy. And this fall I will enroll him in musical-theatre kinderdance. He’ll also do swimming, skating, skiing, drama, sportball, and soccer. (He’s busy.) But I admit that the end-of-year roundup I’m most excited for is his dance recital where I think I shall positively melt.

I’m not the first to say that gender stereotypes are problematic and constraining in our society. It irks me to think that it may have taken Marlo Thomas’s haunting and beautiful “William Wants a Doll” song in the 1970s to get parents to realize that boys could play with plastic babies, and that girls could play with metal firetrucks -- without the world caving in.

But the last holdout seems to be boys taking dance. This parental resistance baffles me.

I picture these same parents curled up on the sofa with their teenage daughters glued to the hit show “So You Think You Can Dance,”  an American television series that has averaged between 5 million and 10 million viewers over its five year run. Not that I necessarily aspire to have my son sweating and skewered on international television, but how do they think these men got there, tris, pecs, glutes, and all?

Might the low number of boys in dance classes have something to do with, um, worrying that enrolling one’s son in a program that encourages musical and kinesthetic awareness, will make Let’s lay it on the table, folks.

If this really is a fear, I urge us as a society to do two things, one to address the absurdity and the other is to address the homophobia. Where did this bizarre notion come from? I have yet to see any scientifically-based evidence that extracurricular activities shape sexual orientation in either direction, in any way.

But more problematically, there is a hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) homophobia still lurking within many of us, despite gay now being as mainstream as Glee (another hit TV series). The true test of Jews having made it in America was not when anti-Semitism was eradicated, but when it became impolite to articulate hateful comments about Jews. The same is now -- thankfully -- happening for gays.

In other words, why should it matter?

Who out there has young sons -- who aren’t yet boxed in by social conventions that only harden with age and self-consciousness -- who wouldn’t have a blast shaking their groove to good music?

The Jewish parental imperative is Torah, Chuppah, and Good deeds. As to the second of these, our children -- sons and daughters, gay or straight -- are certainly going to need to know how to dance at their own wedding. We might as well give them the tools early so they look and feel good on the parkay floor -- horas, hip hops, and all.


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